If one looks at the following defense spending data in isolation, it appears to be insanity^3.

Data from Stockholm International Peace Reseatch Institute

The thing is, defense spending is driven not by statistics or economics, but one of moral values. Ie, risk analysis defined spending based upon probability and consequences doesnt justify our spending 6X more than China (who pretty much bankrolls our economy), unless one starts playing moral games with the consequences factors.

In the post cold war era we live in now, a proportional response is preferred over nuclear action, even though economics alone would dictate otherwise. Ie, nuclear annihilation of an enemy even though it might be a very tiny fraction of the cost of troop engagement is anathama to the purity(disgust) aspect of morality. As such, while one could reduce military spending multifold, having the majority of ones efforts being limited to nuclear is problematic to both liberals and conservatives. A secondary issue of such a stance is the economic costs with the massive numbers of troops and defense contractors who would become unemployed.

Many on both sides have suggested that we return to the age old practice of isolationism… There is no question that having military bases scattered throughout the world is insanely expensive, to say nothing of the wars in the middle east. Some might say we have air to air refueling and thus we dont need as many bases. On the other hand, the KC-135 is approaching vintage status, (first flew in 57), albeit it is projected to be in service until 2040.

The counter to isolationism is that worldwide oils price and supply have a direct effect on our economy. Any actions affecting the worlds oilfieds and/or pipelines or even Gulf of Mexico oil leases could likewise cause major disruptions in the price and/or supply of oil. The reason this is a big deal to many is the US consumes about 24% of the worlds oil production… mess with oil nearly anywhere, and our way of life as we know it gets messed with severely.

This is compounded in that we are only 4% of the worlds population, and emerging economies oil usage is increasing exponentially. At the same time easily recovered and affordable oil is becoming more and more scarce all the time. Yes, the Bakken fields and other potential sites within the US boundaries might provide more than enough oil for our needs, but its recovery may not be economically feasible.

The private sector cannot justify the long term risk and investment needed for what may likely be a very small return due to massive drops in demand due to the resulting high price of oil. By the same token, a multiyear government program on the scale of the Apollo might work, but would also include substantial risk and waste… and thats without political partisanship and meddling.

A liberal response to such is it should be a priority to reduce our dependence upon foreign oil. Such makes good sound bites, but folks have been saying we need an energy policy since the 70’s and virtually nothing has happened… as cheap oil drives the economy. Ultimately though, geology is likely to force the issue, probably a lot sooner than most realize.

This is where the values on defense spending divide liberals and conservatives. (some comments from gailtheactuary’s blog)

Insisting that the US has some kind of right to burn all or most of the world’s remaining oil wastefully is dangerous, myopic nonsense. The US has in fact neither the right nor the might to do this comprehensively. Furthermore, the US has no pressing need to do so and could maintain a very good standard of living (equivalent to the West European standard) on about a quarter of its current oil consumption.

In contrast with

Might makes right. Pretty much every single time. God fights on the side with the biggest artillery. It is indeed dangerous, but the point is to make it dangerous to the competition, not your kids. It’s certainly not myopic nonsense. It’s the opposite. It positions to dominate the inevitable.

… Point being, regardless of the level of life, or of society, you will always want your kids to be in the dominant configuration. That’s why it’s not myopic. It positions to dominate the inevitable, regardless of what society that is dominated looks like.

And there in lies the heirarchy and peergroup value sectors that divide liberals and conservatives.